Back to the Beginning

Narrative Lectionary Reading: selections from Genesis 2 and 3, but I pulled from much of Genesis 1-3 for the dramatic readings

In the beginning
In the chaos and the water
In the darkness
In the great mess that was the time before time and the place before place
In the midst of all that…  was love.

Love so amazing, so divine…
Love that would one day take on flesh…
But not yet.
Right then, love just WAS

In the beginning there was love and joy, there was Spirit and Word
In the beginning there was water
And the chaos of the water and darkness was not a satisfying place for love
Not exactly what Love had in mind.

So the Word spoke and the Spirit hovered
And the Creator laughed with joy to see order beginning to take shape
The water and the darkness gave way to Light
And the light was good

Some of the water went up above the dome of the sky
And that was good

And the waters still below the sky were gathered, revealing land
And the earth was good,
And so were all the plants that grew on this land between the seas and rivers and lakes and streams

And lights were placed in the sky to rule over night and day,
The waters of the seas began to roll and sway, pulled and pushed by the moon and the wind that still hovered near

Living creatures were called forth, spoken into being by the Creator, Creatures swimming and splashing, flying and soaring
And they were beautiful and blessed and good

More living creatures were spoken into being, this time on land, creeping and crawling, grazing and glorious.
And then came one last living creature – humankind –
The one made in God’s image.
God looked out over the water and the land
Over the swimming and flying and walking and creeping creatures

And God commanded the human beings to care for them
To care for the land and the plants that would feed all the creatures
To care for the water that refreshed and restored.
To care for one another.
By the end of the sixth day, work had shifted from creating to commissioning
It was good.
It was meant to always be good.
And on the seventh day, God declared a day of rest.

This is our beginning.

God formed our first ancestor from the dust of the earth
A human from the humus.
An adam from the adamah

And then God breathed the spirit of life into this earthling
The very ruach that had hovered in the chaos now filled the lungs and heart and soul of the one creature made in the image of the Creator

And God placed this one in the garden in Eden
The garden where the trees offered sustenance and life AND the knowledge of good and evil.
In the garden in need of a caretaker

God knew the caretaker needed a helper… an ezer
Because in the beginning,
in the chaos that was the time before time and the place before place,
there was love.
There was community
The one creator was also three

It would not do for this image bearer to be alone
And none of flying or crawling or leaping or galloping creatures would do- as wondrously and fearfully made as they were.

And then there were two, the adam and the ezer, both created in the image of God.

(Adam) I remember the first time I saw you. You took my breath away.

(Eve) I think that was God. He does that, you know.  Gives you breath; takes it away.

No really, I remember looking at you and thinking how different you were. Not like anything else God had placed in the garden. Your hands were like mine. Your ears were in the right place. Then you opened your eyes and… There was something within you that spoke to me…
Even before you spoke.

I remember those first days.  How we walked all over the Garden and everything was just… easy. Being with you, being with God, hearing his voice. Never hungry. Never afraid. Life was simple and beautiful. It was good.

We had no idea how good.

Do you ever wonder what would have happened?  I mean, if we…

No. Well, of course I do. But no. There is no going back.  God made that clear.
This is our life.
Here.  Now.
I know it hasn’t been easy. I miss those days, too.

Do I still take your breath away?

Yes you do. Every time I pick up these tools to till the soil.
And every time I think about how hard you worked to bring our children into the world.

They have your eyes, you know.

——

They were image bearers still, but now they experienced God from a distance.
And with distance grows confusion and vulnerability to the powers of the world to distract and wound, to confound and separate.

The powers of brokenness loved the chaos that the creator had tamed back In the beginning.
And now their voices grow louder, giving them power–
never stronger than the power of God
but always challenging the people
Always seeking to steal life, hope, joy
Continuing to speak lies into their minds and hearts.

There were moments of trust, shining like the light of that first sunrise
Peals of laughter as Isaac was born to Sarah and Abraham in their old age
Taking those first steps onto the dry bed of the red sea, pharaoh’s men closing in behind them
Marching around the walls of Jericho
Gideon sending men home, Debra singing, David dancing
Sun glinting off the Temple where the lamp stood and the ark was home among God’s people, a tall, strong reminder that God was at work among them

But trust also falters, fear and despair creep in, alongside arrogance and pride
Abel’s blood cried out from the ground, revealing humanity’s capacity for evil
Brokenness cast shadows large and small, distorting the image of the creator once so clearly reflected.
Liberation from Egypt and a land of promise were not enough
Prophets and judges were not enough
Kings and priests were not enough
God’s covenant was not enough
Idols and Asherah poles, Kingdoms rising and falling,

God’s chosen people, his children, falling faster and walking farther away
Until they found themselves shattered and scattered.

There were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, another fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile

In the beginning, there was love
Love so amazing, so divine…
Love that would one day take on flesh…
But not yet.

There would be fourteen more generations from the Babylonian exile to the arrival of the Messiah.
The Messiah… the Promised One
The Bread of Life
The Good Shepherd
Jesus… fully human… fully God.

Who was there in the beginning,
In the chaos and the water and in the darkness
See, in the great mess that was the time before time and the place before place,
there was love.
And light… And life.
And the Word.

The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Not a thing that came after could have been made without him.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

And when the time was right
When it was time to begin again
the Word became flesh and lived among us.

Thank you to our Adam and Eve this morning.

As I mentioned last week, this week marks the start of a new cycle in the Narrative Lectionary.  If you’re not familiar with the term, a lectionary is a prescribed set of readings.

The Revised Common Lectionary is an example that has been around for a long time. It runs in a three-year cycle that is driven primarily by the dates and seasons that many streams of Christianity have celebrated for centuries.

The Narrative Lectionary is similar – the creators assigned particular readings for each Sunday and all those extra holy days that we celebrate.  The full cycle of readings are meant to help us follow the long sweeping arc of the Biblical narrative between now and Pentecost.

That means every fall, we go back to the beginning.
Back to where it all started.

Our readings from Genesis 2 and 3 today aren’t the poetic images from the first creation account in Genesis. This account is a little more prosaic.

In the first segment, we are reminded that Adam, the first human, had a purpose – to take care of the garden… to till it and maintain it.  And as he worked the land, the man was free to eat the fruits of his labor.

Literally. Whatever he wanted from whatever tree.  

Well, there was the one tree he couldn’t eat from – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

This was when God determined that his gardener would need a partner. We bounced right over the description of God making all the creatures and Adam naming them as they seek the right partner for his work.  

But finally, God makes another human, the only creature who could be a true partner for the first human.

At this point, all is right in the world.

The two humans continue to serve as the keepers of the garden. They are welcome to eat the fruit from the trees, to drink clean water from the river.

It’s a pretty amazing beginning, really. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a place like that?
Direct access to God. Plenty to eat. No worries at all.

Until that pesky serpent came along.

For a long time, what happened next has been called “the fall.”  As if all of human existence has been a let down.  The sequence of events – the fact that Eve was the first tricked into breaking the rules – or that she caused Adam to sin also – that sequence has led some believers to blame the existence of sin in the world on women.  

And then to use that belief to place women in a second class category.  You can probably guess where I stand on that… and why it makes me sad that the influence of that interpretation extends well beyond church walls. But that’s for another day.

Today, I want to challenge you to consider their choices in light of the other stories we know from scriptures and our own lives.  The ways that humankind seeks to take charge, to be more God-like, not just reflecting God’s image but acting like gods on our own.

God is the one who has the capacity to understand good and evil. To judge. We tend to find ourselves in pretty deep trouble when we begin to take on that role

So I have always found it interesting that the tree held the key to the knowledge of good and evil. It was not the tree of good or evil. It was the entry into the knowledge of good and evil.

That means that from the very beginning, evil was around, lurking, and able to be observed. Just as surely as good and love were there from the beginning.  

Eating that particular fruit, against the wishes of God, would mean our first parents would see the world differently, would understand the world differently, would have the wonderful, awful knowledge that comes with being able to discern right from wrong, good from evil.

Both wonderful and awful because knowing good from evil goes beyond judging the appearance of actions.
It has to do with judging a person’s heart.
It has to do with judging one’s own heart.

Whether or not you believe that there were literally two people in a big garden that housed talking animals, including a serpent.  And whether or not you think that those two people ate some kind of fruit that ended humanity’s time in that perfect garden…

I think we can all agree to this truth: that you and I carry within us that same human tendency to put ourselves in the seat that ought to be God’s. To exert our control over the world in ways that might not actually be healthy and helpful.

We have a tendency to judge other people and attempt to ascribe motives to their actions (whether good or evil).

We can see the promise in one another, the gifts and talents and beauty that reflect the incomparable creativity, energy, love and glory of God. We can imagine the power that could be harnessed by banding together.

We can harness that power for good. Or we can find ourselves building towers that reach up to the heavens like the one in Babel…structures and systems that benefit those we trust, those we judge to be like-hearted or like-minded. And oppress those who are not.

I think about the Tower of Babel when I drive through cities with big tall downtown high rises.  Writing those words this week, I couldn’t help but think about this day. And what it means to talk about towers that are destroyed.

I have to confess that I dread this date when it rolls around every year.  

There is something about the way that we remember this day, the way we recall the terror of the day that makes me almost physically ill.

Probably all but the youngest among us can recall the first images we saw coming out of New York City 15 years ago. Then out of Washington DC.  And Pennsylvania.

I can’t unsee those images.  

Not any more than I can unsee the images of the devastation that took place closer to home in the Pulse nightclub, or images of the bombed-out streets of Aleppo, or images of the poor souls who were liberated from World War II concentration camps, but looked like walking corpses.

I cannot unsee them.  

Not any more than I can unsee the face of the person who laughed when I tried to explain just how deeply and permanently their actions had wounded me.

I would give most anything to go back to the days before I understood just how horrible people can be – how horrible we are – to one another.

To go back to the days before we talked about active shooters on elementary school campuses.

Before we worried about planes flying just a little too low over major cities.  

I would give almost everything to go back to the days before I knew just how painful it is to be abandoned or rejected by someone who had once been kind and loving.

Chances are good that you, too, have been judged harshly at some point in your life. And have judged others unfairly.

And if you’re like me at all, you have experienced the sting of shame that inevitably follows, especially when I search my own motives and see my own capacity for evil.

The awareness of the depth of our sin…  my sin.
The truth of our capacity for evil…  It’s scary stuff.

Seriously… I’m a pretty brave person and human depravity scares the snot out of me.

But here’s the problem – That fear is exactly what drives us to build walls and draw lines, to make clear the parameters for being us rather than them.

That fear of the evil others might do is what increases the odds that we’ll beat them to it.

Because combining the evil in us with our fear of evil in others is like throwing gasoline on a fire. And there are an awful lot of people making an awful lot of money off of feeding that fire right now.  

Our “news” programs focus on criminal activity and offer breathless reporters sensationalizing the most mundane of stories.  We don’t have weather radars any more. They are now Storm Trackers.  

And because we are too scared not to watch, ratings go up, advertisers pay more, so that hopefully, we’ll buy more stuff.  

Our political candidates have long ago stopped describing what they can or would like to do for their constituents. Instead the political action committees scare voters into voting against the opposing party.

And even knowing all that, even knowing how it all works, it’s still easy to get sucked into the vortex of fearing the unknown… the unknown people, the unknown future…

And forgetting that we have a power within us that is greater than any fear, greater than any hate. A power that is older than time itself.

In the beginning
In the chaos and the water
In the darkness
In the great mess that was the time before time and the place before place
In the midst of all that…  was love.

Love so amazing, so divine…
Love that took on flesh, resisted every temptation, and remained obedient to the end
Love that is perfect
Love that drives out fear

Love that lives on, embodied by the gathered who remember the sacrifice, who remember their call to tear down the walls that divide

Love that is made flesh by the gathered who call upon the Prince of Peace

Love that gathers many voices into one voice to pray Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done.

That is the true power of knowing good and evil.  

We can be the good that the world needs to see and experience. We can speak the truth and love that the world needs to hear.

In the mess that is this time…
In the mess that is this place…
There is love.  

And for that, I give thanks.

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